John Lofranco is a coach and educator. He is the Manager of Coaching Education and Development for Athletics Canada, the national sport organization for Track and Field, and coach for aspiring Olympians, university and high school student-athletes, and anyone interested in bettering themselves through sport. He is also a 16-year member of the part-time faculty in Concordia’s English department and holds bachelors in common and civil law from McGill.
Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).
I manage the training and certification programs for track and field coaches in Canada. I coach distance runners, including a couple legitimate Olympic hopefuls, in Montreal. I also teach part-time in the English department at Concordia University.
Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
No. I was going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, recently divorced, and I went back to a high school reunion in Toronto. I noticed many of my classmates were lawyers and I thought, well it can’t be that hard then, if these guys are doing it.
At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction?
Well, failing the bar was probably an indication. So maybe it wasn’t as easy as I thought. That said, I never went into law school with the specific intention of practicing. I had some interviews with big New York firms in second-year, but between the time the interviews were scheduled and when they were held, the market crashed. So the interviews were...interesting. One guy was for sure coked up. A couple others didn’t want to talk about law at all. We mostly talked about running. But another one of your interviewees, Keith Serry, had some good and prescient advice for me: he said I may have “dodged a bullet.”
So around when I was going through bar school, I was also fantasizing about taking a full-time NCAA coaching job. I didn’t get that, but I did get a job with the national sport federation for track and field and I just went that way.
What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?
The advice I give to the runners I coach is “just hang around.” The longer you spend in something, the more opportunities will open up. I got a job as the coordinator for road running, working with the organizers of road races to help them improve their product for their runners. Then, after being in the organization a while, a position opened up in coaching education, which, as a coach and teacher, was much closer to my passion. It was funny, actually, I was on my way to the Francophone Games, as the Canadian team manager, and my boss texted me “when are you leaving?” I wrote back “now, I’m at the gate” and he replied “ok, check your email when you have a chance, it’s nothing bad.” So obviously I had to check right away. He had asked me if I could take on this new role. I said yes without hesitating.
What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?
Well, I like to think that my legal education has been beneficial to the work I do, but not in the obvious way. For example, right now I’m on a committee at the Coaching Association of Canada that’s revising the code of conduct and code of ethics for Canadian coaches of all sports. So there’s a lot of legal thinking there. In working on curriculum and training strategies, there’s a lot of problem-solving, so in that way my legal training is helpful. There’s also a fair bit of politicking, working with the different provincial associations, and other national organizations, in a very Canadian way.
Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?
I’d say my parents. My dad worked hard driving a truck for years, just getting up at 5am every day and going to work. And my mom stayed home with us. Both of them showed me that you have to work at what you do and be a good person. So whatever I do now, I think of my son and another one on the way and that if I’m trying to further my career or something, that it’s to their benefit. I am really fortunate that I work in something I love. It’s hardly work, to be honest.
At law school, I was older, starting when I was 30, so I think I was not with the “in-crowd” so to speak, but Profs Dedek (another one of your interviewees...is there a pattern here?) and Moyse, who just started teaching that year, were very good to talk to on an equal basis.
In sport, I’m inspired by other coaches who are always trying to learn, question themselves and their methods, and by athletes who just get results and don’t really have a lot to say about it on social media. Just do work and get results. Sport is about getting the most out of yourself, so all the social media noise is largely irrelevant.
What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
I really liked the intellectual challenges. It was all new to me, so anytime I felt like I “got” something or learned something new, that was exciting. I made a couple close friends, who happened to be in a lot of my classes (Timour and Mihaela) so spending time with them was fun. They were both straight out of CEGEP so it was fun that we could connect despite the age difference. And as I mentioned above, the young profs.
What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
I’m not a big fan of hierarchy or protocol. So there were things like the fawning respect and awe for professors and judges and partners that I think is misplaced. Maybe that’s why I didn’t make it in the legal profession. But I just think, if someone’s an ass, they are an ass, it doesn’t matter how many degrees they have.
In a similar vein, the students who were fake (so many of them). I remember a cocktail scenario (I won’t name names) where talking to some partners in a firm, this one student put his arm around me like were were best buddies...I was like, you’re too cool for me but now because it makes you look like you are “social” or something you buddy up? No thanks. It probably didn’t help me much that I balked, but he got hired by that firm. I have no patience for games like that.
In general, this idea that McGill is special or elite also bothered me. I have degrees from three universities in Canada (McGill, Waterloo, and UNB), I teach at another (Concordia) and I took classes at a couple other places (UofT and Conestoga College). There are no significant differences in terms of the abilities or intelligence of students.
Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?
Bar school, mostly, haha. Obviously I’m not the only one, and most people figure it out, but I couldn’t get over the change from “it depends” (standard answer at McGill law that got me good grades) to the very specific “right” answers required by the bar that I couldn’t seem to figure out. It’s disappointing because I was told by some professors and lawyers I respect that they thought I’d be a good lawyer, and I do think I would have been. I’d never failed at anything, especially something academic, so that was a blow. But I am also currently living the dream so I can’t complain too much.
Do you still see the law all around you?
When I applied to law school, I spoke to a friend who had also done it and he suggested that his reason for going was that the law was the under-pinning of society. If we wanted to know how the world works, we had to know the law. That has stuck with me and I think it’s true.
I probably see the world through a legal lense more than most people. I try to keep in touch in one way or another. I volunteer with inmates of the federal training centre in Laval. I like to read Supreme Court cases for fun.
What advice would you give to a first-year law student?
Don’t listen to the haters. Avoid the bullshit. Just walk away from people that you feel aren’t genuine, that aren’t going to be a positive influence on you. I don’t mean not to challenge yourself, or to live in a silo or a bubble. That’s a huge problem today. I just mean, don’t feel like you have to do or say things that aren’t you, and if someone tells you that you have to, just say no. Like Nancy Reagan said.
If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
Sleep. And anyone who is a parent of small children will give this answer.
It would have been fun to be a criminal defense lawyer, but my life would be quite different, and life is good so, no, no regrets, because I’m really happy. I have a great job, great co-workers, a great boss. I work from home. I work with really interesting people as a coach. My family is a source of great joy. So regretting would mean wanting to change something and I worry if I did that, then these things would not be the same.
The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.